Identifying Sleepers - Quarterbacks
By Jeff Tefertiller
June 15th, 2010

Fantasy players are always on the lookout for the next emerging sleeper candidate. We all want to be the one that discovers the next great player. This is the second installment of a series that explores how to find sleepers in your fantasy league. We will examine sleepers at the quarterback position in this article. Since every league is different, this series will concentrate purely on standard scoring, 12-team leagues. The methodology of looking for sleepers will be the same for all of the positions. This criteria was covered in the first article of the series. In addition, we will try to find players that meet at least one, hopefully several, of these variables. Below are the guidelines that were introduced in the last article and will be employed to identify sleepers for each position:

  • A player cannot be considered a sleeper if you never would start the player given any circumstance in a normal league.
  • The potential sleeper must be able to produce at least two starting levels higher than pick used (i.e., WR5 has to have ability and situation to produce at WR3 level, if not better). There is no need drafting a back as RB4 on your team that can only hope to attain RB3 status. For quarterbacks, one starting level is enough.
  • The very best sleepers have to rely on few other things to happen. A NFL RB2, who only needs one injury (or to outplay one player) is more attractive than one who is a RB3 or even RB4, regardless of the amount of talent he may or may not possess.
  • Every sleeper is judged purely based on potential outcome versus pick used. This is relatively simple - it is a matter of risk versus reward.
  • Fantasy owners need to look for anything that has changed in situation: changing teams, changes in personnel in front of player, changing in coaches, etc.
  • One key for future breakout can be the points per game stats for an injured player from the year before.
  • Before we get started exploring this year's sleepers at the quarterback position, we will look at the sleepers suggested over the past couple of years. Two years ago, this article suggested three passers. Their names were Matt Schaub, Aaron Rodgers, and Jason Campbell. Two turned into very good calls and one (Campbell) that finished at his ADP. Last year, David Garrard was coming off a QB11 finish but was being drafted as QB17 off the board. He outpaced his draft status for a QB14 finish. The selection of Garrard later in fantasy drafts allowed fantasy owners to load up on players at the running back and wide receiver positions. Another passer suggested last offseason was new Bronco quarterback Kyle Orton. He had an ADP of QB18, but finished as QB16. While neither of these two quarterbacks led fantasy teams to the title, many fantasy owners won the championship with Garrard and Orton as starters. Garrard averaged only three and a half points per game less than Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger. A fantasy owner would be able to make up the difference by hoarding ball carriers and pass receivers while other teams spend high picks on a quarterback. It should also be stated that several highly ranked quarterbacks (including Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, and Carson Palmer) finished behind both Garrard and Orton. They were cheap, safe options that had upside to produce good numbers any given week.

    For the 2010 sleepers, we will break these down by their draft position (ADP), and look at the options. First, let's look fantasy QB2s that are not drafted in the top 15 passers. Three potential sleepers jump off the page. We will only consider those that are capable of landing in the Top 12 at season's end. Owners that wait this long for their fantasy starter are able to select two from this tier. Employing this strategy provides insurance and allows for the ability to play matchups, if the need arises.

    1. David Garrard still gets little respect. He is the Rodney Dangerfield of fantasy quarterbacks. The Jaguar quarterback has finished the last two seasons as QB11 and QB14. The loss of Torry Holt is not a huge one. The Jaguars are relying on their two youngsters, Mike Thomas and Jarett Dillard, to take another step in their development. Jacksonville also has the speedy, yet inconsistent, Troy Williamson. One thing about Garrard is that he has produced good fantasy numbers even without the benefit of a strong receiving corps. After two very solid finishes the past two years, it is amazing that Garrard presently has an ADP of QB23. Can you imagine taking a quarterback with two consecutive good years in the fourteenth round? Well, that is the situation at the present. He offers tremendous value at a great price.
    2. Vince Young took over for an ineffective Kerry Collins in the middle of the 2009 season. The move was ordered by owner Bud Adams, not coach Jeff Fisher. Adams knew what he was doing. Under the direction of Young, the Titans almost made the playoffs. After taking over as the starter in week nine, Young posted seven consecutive fantasy scores over the 16-point threshold. Further, he had three games scoring over 21 points, two of which exceeded 25 fantasy points. Remember, this is a quarterback that finished as QB13 his rookie season. With the improved maturity shown last year, he does have upside to be a Top 10 fantasy quarterback. If Young plays the entire season, it will be difficult for him to NOT outplay his QB17 draft status. He finished the season as QB25 despite starting only half of the games. Also, Chris Johnson saw gaping holes after Young was inserted into the lineup. Young threw ten touchdowns opposed to six interceptions after taking over for Collins. Vince Young is a sleeper heading into the 2010 season. With increased maturity (and fewer strip club fights), he can be a fantasy factor at a great price.
    3. Chad Henne was a forgotten man last season. He was drafted to be the next Dan Marino in Miami. Henne has all of the tools to be the long-term NFL starter. He has a big arm and can make all of the throws. After a QB23 finish last season, Henne is being drafted as QB19 off the board so far this offseason. So, why should fantasy owners expect improvement in 2010? There are two major reasons. First of all, Henne should see tremendous improvement going into year two as a starter. The offseason after the first season at the helm is huge in the development of young passers. It will be the case for Henne as well. Another important factor is the acquisition of Brandon Marshall. Henne had a potpourri of bad receiving options to throw to last year. Marshall gives the Dolphin pass offense a big upgrade. Miami has been primarily a running team since coach Tony Sparano has taken over. The team has relied upon Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams to control the clock and lead the offense down the field. But, this year might be different. Brown is coming off a nasty Lisfranc injury and has experienced trouble finishing seasons. Add in Williams being 33 years old and it is not difficult to see how and why the Dolphins might need to rely on the arm of Henne in 2010. The addition of Marshall should translate into better passer statistics and improved efficiency.

    The last group of potential sleepers at the quarterback position are ones drafted as fantasy QB3s (or later) but have a chance to produce at a Top 15 level. This would translate into being at least a good spot starter to cover bye weeks or injury. Since these quarterbacks are drafted as a fantasy QB3, it means that this player is drafted for upside only. The sleeper status is based purely on the ability to produce strong fantasy numbers if given the opportunity. If your fantasy team has two quarterbacks that are NFL starters, this QB3 needs to be focused more on upside than current situation.

    1. Matt Moore finished the 2009 season strong after replacing veteran Jake Delhomme. Moore has a 6-2 career record as a starter but is being overlooked this offseason. He led the Panthers to three straight great victories to end the season; beating the Vikings, Giants, and Saints all in a row. But, fantasy owners want to know if Moore can be productive for their team. In these three weeks, Moore averaged 22.2 fantasy points a contest ... against three very good defenses. The Carolina starter has an ADP of QB30. Many fantasy owners are worried about the selections of Jimmy Clausen and Tony Pike in April's NFL Draft. This should not be an issue unless Moore has a horrid season. Let's all remember how coach John Fox stuck with Delhomme even though he threw eight touchdown versus eighteen interceptions. Fox loves his veterans. One other thing to note is that Fox is in the last year of his contract and will play the passer that gives his team the best chance at wins. Moore should be the starter for most, if not all, of the season.
    2. Yes, Matt Schaub played great last season, finishing as an elite fantasy option. But, this was the first time Schaub had played all 16 games in a season since joining the Texans. Houston brought in Dan Orlovsky last year. They paid him good money to be the backup after showing promise in Detroit. We have to give credit to Gary Kubiak for recognizing talent at the quarterback position. He knows what it takes to succeed as a NFL passer. The Houston offense has the weapons for Orlovsky to succeed if given the chance. He was a good spot fantasy starter with the Lions and should be much improved under the tutelage of Kubiak. At minimum, the Schaub owner should consider selecting Orlovsky as insurance. Schaub played in just eleven games during the 2007 and 2008 seasons respectively. When playing the entire season last year, Schaub finished as QB4. It is not unreasonable to think Orlovsky can be a Top 10 fantasy quarterback if something were to happen to the Texans' starter.
    3. Jason Campbell was traded to the Oakland Raiders after the Washington Redskins acquired Donovan McNabb via trade. It is interesting how fantasy owners view this move for Campbell. With few weapons at the wide receiver position, Campbell finished a QB15 each of the past two seasons. This was with Santana Moss and little else to throw to down the field. Bruce Gradkowski showed last year that a Raider passer can be a viable fantasy option with his strong showing in weeks eleven, twelve, and thirteen. In those three weeks, Gradkowski led the Raiders to victories against the playoff-bound Bengals and the Steelers. In the three games, Gradkowski totaled 691 passing yards, six touchdowns and only one interception. These are good fantasy numbers. Campbell can provide similar production for Oakland. He has the potential to finish QB15, or higher, once again. The Raiders have a good, young group of pass receivers. Names like Schilens, Heyward-Bay, Murphy, and tight end Miller are not readily familiar to everyone, but they should provide production equal to the pass catchers Campbell threw to in Washington. In addition, running backs Darren McFadden and Michael Bush are good receivers out of the backfield. Campbell is the type of backup fantasy quarterback that can be effective. Playing in the AFC West never hurts either.

    Fantasy owners are advised to take a chance on a sleeper quarterback as a fantasy QB2 or QB3. Sleeper passers are great risks to take. If the sleeper QB excels, it takes the pressure off of having to "hit" on the fantasy starter. Sleeper quarterbacks will emerge during the season and one or two will come from the waiver wire. With decent options available on the waiver wire, fantasy owners are encouraged to draft QB2 or QB3 only on the basis of upside and potential. But, if a fantasy owner wants to draft and stash a sleeper quarterback, follow the criteria listed above to find the next emerging passer.

    Please feel free to email me at tefertiller@footballguys.com with any questions or comments. You can also find me on Twitter.